When it was originally on: 1982-1993
Original network: NBC
Where you can stream it now: Netflix, Hulu, or CBS All Access
Had I seen it before: I’ve seen the pilot and a small handful of the episodes immediately after it but I’ve never fully immersed myself like I have with Friends or Seinfeld.
What IMDb says: The regulars of the Boston bar Cheers share their experiences and lives with each other while drinking or working at the bar where everybody knows your name.
Why I picked it: Cheers is more than a tv show. It’s an institution. 11 seasons is already an accomplishment in and of itself, not to mention that without Cheers we wouldn’t have Frasier, which got 11 seasons of its own. If you’re a scholar of literature, you’re expected to know To Kill a Mockingbird. If you’re a scholar of film, you’re expected to know Casablanca. And if you’re a scholar of television, you’re expected to know Cheers.
I think Cheers also deserves a lot of credit for pioneering the hangout genre of sitcom. In some ways Cheers is still just another workplace sitcom, but it also introduces so many non-employee characters that are vital to the show’s DNA that it inadvertently becomes a missing link between the workplace sitcom and the hangout sitcom. It proved that you didn’t necessarily need a gimmicky premise, you just needed a talented cast that could play off of each other well, paving the way for stuff like Seinfeld and Friends.
What I liked: Sam Malone is exactly the kind of charming, witty personality you can build a sitcom around. Is he “nice” in the most traditional sense of the word? Not exactly. He’s snide, especially towards Diane. He’s slightly flirty with her initially, but respectfully backs off upon learning she’s engaged. He’s able to come off as somewhat of a playboy, but yet we don’t really see him flagrantly cross a line in the pilot.
The show also does a good job of introducing a lot of characters in a short amount of time. Sure, we focus primarily on Sam and Diane, but we also meet Norm, Carla, Coach, and Cliff. Most get a chance to make us laugh, and they each play off of Sam in slightly different ways. Sam is humble, but Coach is happy to boast about his past as a baseball star. Sam is relatively chill and mellow, but Carla is feisty and easily irritated. Sam is clean and sober, Norm practically drinks himself to sleep.
I also love how much of the humor here comes down to clever word play. It allows the show to be funny despite its limiting set, and it’s refreshing to see a sitcom with actual jokes in it for a change.
What I didn’t like: The only character who doesn’t really pop the way I wish he did was Cliff. I know Cliff goes on to be one of the regular cast members, but here he’s just a dude drinking at the bar. I don’t understand how his personality sets him apart from the other personalities in the bar. It would only take a few episodes more to correct this, so I don’t see it as a huge flaw, just a minor annoyance.
It’s also a little hard for me to believe that Diane suddenly needs a job to the extent that she would accept one at Cheers, where she’s done nothing but bicker with the boss for the whole episode. Diane is a grad student. Presumably, she could afford to be a grad student without a job before this episode began. Now, one could certainly argue that her fiancé was paying for a lot of her stuff, but the fiancé was also a professor for whom she was a Teacher Assistant, so presumably this is not a man she knew before becoming a grad student. So Diane was presumably well-to-do enough to be a full-time student without an additional job, yet suddenly she needs a job because her man left her? Maybe this would have made more sense in 1982, but to me it reads as a little too convenient, with writers quickly rushing to an unnatural conclusion that gives Diane a reason to stay. What can I say? It’s a product of its time.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Sort of? Again, I’ve seen some subsequent episodes and they were entertaining, but not gripping. I’d love to dive deeper into Cheers because of its legacy, but it’s not calling my name to the extent that M*A*S*H or The Mary Tyler Moore Show.